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Quite how Matilda reconciles her carefully cultivated contemptus mundi with a senior role at an online newspaper is a question only she can answer. Her fresher life until she encountered The Tab was punctuated by poetry readings and competitive debating, neither of which was organised through the Facebook account that she definitely does not have. Known for filling her room with fairy lights and making a show of using her typewriter, her life has been described by one cynic as "a journey of realisation that things don't happen like they do in novels." She writes about culture, sex and the Big Society.

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MATILDA WNEK finds a Lear with flashes of brilliance that is ultimately unable to weather the storm.

ADC Theatre, 17th-21st January, 7.45 pm/2.30 pm, £6-10 

[rating: 3/5]

Directed by Charlie Parham

This production of King Lear is made remarkable by its central performance. Theo Hughes-Morgan is almost unrecognizable (I assume) as the aged king; his closely observed mannerisms distinguish him instantly from his fellow actors. His descent into an unconventionally fitful madness was skillfully foreshadowed by gradually emerging tics that were sustained throughout and rarely overstated. Credit should go to Charlie Parham for what must have been a lot of attentive work on the pacing of this elegant dis-assemblage.

Ultimately, however, the play failed to approach tragedy. I came away disappointed by a production that undercut its strongest asset with a series of bold but frankly bizarre directorial decisions that evidenced a total lack of clarity over what was worth emphasizing.

Photographs by Sana Ayub

The set made a play at simplicity with its multi-purpose gold beanstalk-doorposts, but they were over-decorated, ugly, cluttered the stage and confused location. The storm sequence sacrificed all sense of Lear’s isolation in order to have several people wave sheets of metal to make thunder noise, a choice totally inconsistent with the recorded wind track and flashy lightning projections. Worst, much of the action was frustratingly sucked upstage, making for undramatic scenes that occasionally dragged.

I was amazed by how little time was given to Lear’s revelatory speeches in the storm, which are surely a contender for the most important moments in the play. The staging was arranged as if the important thing to emphasise was the need for Lear to get inside: at the peak of his lucidity in madness he was being physically pulled back upstage by a desperate Kent and fenced in by people with thunder sheets.

Other important moments were not well prepared. The blinding scene had no time to get carried away with itself, Edgar and Edmund’s duel was almost totally unanticipated and the deaths of the sisters follow no particularly charged exchanges with Edmund.

There were some exceptional performances, of course. Mary Galloway’s perfectly neurotic Gonerill lifted every scene she was in, and Jack Hudson’s Gloucester was quietly brilliant, meeting his extreme changes in fortune with a well-drawn and believable simplicity.

Charlotte Hamblin was a committed and captivating Fool, but her Cordelia was far too petulant and defensive to carry the weight of the reunion scene. In a stroke of what might have been genius, Parham had the first scene preceded by a depiction of Cordelia’s anxious anticipation of the event, turning her protest against the ceremony into a preplanned and considered decision. She has chosen to refuse to speak because she loves her father and wishes to open his eyes. His failure to validate her hope could have been beautiful, but Hamblin’s defensive anger and persistence was totally misplaced and made it impossible to believe she could ever have been his favourite daughter.

Eventually, Hughes-Morgan just retreated into his head and got on with it: affecting, but it left the tragedy about nothing more than a state of selfish people ignoring an old man going mad. I couldn’t help but feel there was a better play going on inside his head, and I wished this production had been patient and focused enough to show it.

  • What?

    You also reviewed Romeo and Juliet and gave it the same…. did we see the same production? This is ridiculous.

    • Stars

      RANT TIME, yay:

      Don't expect stars to be consistent – either within a paper or a reviewer's output. Marking something out of five is not meant to be a fine tuned metric. The content is in the review, not the stars. The reality? Reviewer probably can't decide on stars half the time, so to hold them to a measure of something they saw seven months is patently absurd.

      If you really want, we could turn over all criticism to mass survey, double-blinded ratings out of a hundred. But given that people like different things for different reasons, I reckon its just best that you read writing rather than count stars.

  • A fan

    Fucking awesome review. As ever.

  • Gag Bat

    I sleep by day and pun by night.

  • Everyman

    Good review. Although I would have mentioned how Hugh Wyld's shorts and stoop made him look as though he had a RAGING erection for the duration of his madness monologue, but that's just me…

  • Mallika Leuzinger

    How pronounce your surname?

  • Max Levine

    Loves ya…

  • fan

    This is a wonderful show! Brilliant performances all round. Incredible directorial decision to have cordelia/ fool double and wonderful staging all round too.

    • TPJ

      Talking of wonderful shows, have you seen the U21's training recently? A sight to behold…

      • FFS

        Gonna throw it out there: these in-jokes aren't funny. They never were and they never will be.

    • A. Fool

      This isn't a criticism in anyway, but it's actually quite common to have Cordelia and The Fool doubled. They don't share any scenes, so people reckon that Shakespeare may have had them played by one actor – which was quite common apparently.

      • Cordelia

        Indeed it was probably done when it was originally staged

    • Dissertation Topic

      Cordelia and the Fool are often doubled. Aside from the practical element of the two characters exiting and entering at exactly the right moments so as they can be doubled, Shakespeare himself alludes to the characters being one and the same throughout the text. Just one example is their commitment to the truth; both the Fool and Cordelia are Lears most prized possessions and yet are the only two to never attempt to decieve Lear. SO… it's probably a GOOD decision in a touring company to double them but its certainly not an INCREDIBLE one.

  • Jon Culshaw

    I thought I was a bold directorial choice to have King Lear speak as if he was doing an impression of Ian McKellen doing an impression of the x factor voice over man.

  • Fair

    Brilliant review, spot on I'd say. I'm glad you picked out Mary Galloway's portrayal of Goneril, well deserved.

  • Str8


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